The best, simplest review I can give it is to quote from political operative Robert Wheel (@bobbybigwheel on Twitter): You know it’s a good book because every page pisses you off.
I was 17 years old when we invaded Iraq. At the time, I was a champion for the war because I believed our government. Why would our government lie? Even as I began to question things in 2003 and 2004, I still voted for George W. Bush in my first presidential election. I was proud to do so.
Eight years later, I pulled the lever for the first time for Barack Obama, in part but not limited to his notions on solving the Forever Wars.
Yet even he couldn’t do it. Nor could the tyrant who followed him.
In a mere 337 dense pages, Spencer Ackerman traces a straight line from the War on Terror rhetoric to America today. Only he doesn’t start with 9/11. He starts with Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bombing, and THEN goes to 9/11.
It’s an interesting choice but it pays off. Ackerman’s whole case is not just the Forever Wars themselves but the way we prosecuted them on the home front. The widespread detentions, the shameless Islamphobia, the denigration of Black and brown persons. He threads the needle from Bush to Obama to Trump and even, slightly to Biden. No one is exculpated, either the presidents or the parties.
But then he closes with the 1/6 Insurrection. And thus, the lightbulb goes off and you see Ackerman’s thesis revealed. His overarching point becomes clear: that we became so consumed with the War on Terror that the US body politic, Democrat and Republican alike, basically cannibalized itself.
As angry as I was reading it, finishing it took me to a new level of rage. Ackerman isn’t being wonky here. He’s not proposing solutions. He’s simply diagnosing the problem.
I’m so glad that despite his own perpetuation of the Forever Wars, Joe Biden has the sense to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. It’s messy because it was always going to be messy. But Ackerman doesn’t let Biden, or America off the hook. Most of us are complicit in how we got here.
I’ve read a lot of non-fiction this year and while this may not be the best, it will definitely be the one that sticks with me.